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Air Toxics: Challenging Weak Standards

Supreme Court columns reach up toward a blue sky.

Over the last few weeks, the nation’s federal courts—including the U.S. Supreme Court—have blessed Americans with four major clean air victories that will save tens of thousands of lives and allow millions of us to live healthier. Some of these achievements came only after years of struggle by Earthjustice and our allies.

Tired of breathing dirty air during your daily commute? Just turn on your car vent’s recirculation button, advises researchers from the University of Southern California. Their study found that pushing this little-used button—which typically shows an arrow with a car around it—can cut pollution levels by 80 percent as compared to pollution levels found out on the road.
 

When our elected officials continue standing in the way of clean air and water—it’s time to shake things up. Which is why more than 100 physicians, tribal and labor leaders, clergy, nurses and parents are in Washington, D.C., for a 3-day visit with Congress, united as 50 States United for Healthy Air.

This legion of clean air and water advocates are meeting with members of Congress to call for greater protections from smog, coal ash, carbon and other dangerous air pollutants.

It’s a big day for our lungs and our health.

Soot is melting the Arctic. Even scientists are alarmed with the disappearance rate of ice in the northern hemisphere. When soot falls on snow and ice it increases the amount of light and heat that is absorbed, just like any reflective surface. The Arctic is not alone in this unprecedented melting; the life-supporting snowpack in the Himalayas is also feeling the impact.

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The mention of soot conjures images of black clouds pouring out of unfiltered cars, or of cities lost in dark fog. At times in our history, soot pollution has helped stain entire ecosystems black, famously causing moths in Britain to change color from white to black to better hide in their environment. These images are well-deserved: soot is dangerous to both humans and the environment.

We were thrilled in July when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled to uphold a clean air standard that limits dangerous intense bursts of sulfur dioxide pollution from power plants, factories and other sources. Sulfur dioxide is a pretty nasty agent that causes a variety of adverse health impacts including breathing difficulties, aggravation of asthma and increased hospital and emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses.

Last Wednesday, a group of clean air advocates intervened to protect crucial air safeguards that will curb pollution emitted during oil and gas drilling. Unfortunately the state of Texas and their allies with the American Petroleum Institute and a variety of other state alliances of oil and gas companies are pushing back against these necessary protections.

Amy Poszywak at SNL Financial reports that lobbying among the largest U.S. power companies topped $11 million in the third quarter of 2011 (the latest figures available) and that expenses have been high all year.

Not surprisingly, the biggest companies attempting to sway congress and the administration include some of the biggest polluters in the nation.

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